Israel's Chief Justice 'Inclined' to Issue Injunction Banning Natural Gas Export

While deliberating petition on imposing limits on the state's gas export policy, Grunis says injunction 'appropriate’ until court rules on the matter; state to submit response by Monday.

Hila Raz
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Supreme Court President Asher Grunis said on Thursday that he is inclined to issue an injunction banning natural gas export until the court ruled on the matter.

“The hearing will proceed as if a temporary injunction had been issued,” Grunis said, adding that the number of justices on the panel, currently standing at three, should be expanded.

The meaning of a temporary injunction is that the government will need to persuade the court that its decision to sell some of Israel’s natural gas reserves is lawful. Grunis spoke during a hearing of a petition demanding that the decision whether to export the amounts of gas or keep them in Israel for future local use would be made by the Knesset rather than by the government.

Attorney Aner Helman, representing the government, requested that the court would allow the state to submit its response by Monday. Grunis agreed, adding, “We are aware of the urgency of the matter and will take it into consideration.”

The petitioners, which include The College of Law and Business, the Israel Energy Forum, the Calcala Bat-Kaima ‏(“Sustainable Economy”‏) organization, along with MKs Shelly Yacimovich and Avishay Braverman ‏(Labor‏), Reuven Rivlin ‏(Likud‏) and Moshe Gafni ‏(United Torah Judaism‏), argue that since the decision has far-reaching ramifications, it must be also approved by the Knesset.

The petitioners claim that the government was not authorized to bypass the Knesset in such an important decision that would affect the future of Israeli economy. Last week, the Knesset’s Legal Adviser, Eyal Yinon, published an opinion supporting the petitioners’ position, explaining that a policy that affects further generations with immense financial ramifications, and is hotly debated, “has to be addressed by comprehensive, detailed legislation.”

The government’s response to the petition was that it is, in fact, authorized to decide the percentage of the gas kept for local use. Helman argued that clause 33 of the Petroleum Law authorized the energy and water resources minister to regulate the general policy, adding that if the petition was granted, it would, in effect, direct the Knesset to pass a law, contrary to habitual High Court of Justice conduct of noninterference in legislative procedures.

The government decision, passed in June, is based on the recommendations of a committee headed by the Energy and Water Resources Ministry’s director general, Shaul Tzemach, which recommended, after debating the issue for a year and a half, that Israel must keep enough gas to last it for 25 years. The committee determined that 450 billion cubic meters of gas would suffice for that period, while the government decision, raised that amount by a further 20 percent, allocating 540 BCM for domestic needs. The gas reserves at Israel’s offshore fields are estimated at about 1,000 BCM.

The platform at the Tamar offshore gas field.Credit: Albatross